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“Hello there,” Tabitha Brown coos to social media viewers with her Southern drawl and reassuring smile. The 41-year-old mother of two has amassed more than 3 million followers on the youth-dominated mobile video platform TikTok since her March debut.
Fans of all stripes tune in for her charming vegan-cooking tutorials served with a side of moral support. The healthy-living influencer makes a connection through the screen that cuts through the gloom so many of us are feeling right now.
Longing for a new addition to your routine shelter-at-home menus? That’s when it’s time to watch Brown whip up jackfruit “pulled pork” tacos or air-fry a batch of okra in her humble home kitchen. You could be the furthest thing from vegan but still find that she has the cure for what ails you.
Perhaps, after a day filled with Zoom meetings, bleak headlines and general malaise, you could just use a virtual chin-chuck. Give her 30 seconds, and she’ll give you a tender pep talk and then sign off with “I love you.” Brown has also made her feel-good mission a family affair as the co-host of YouTube videos with her husband, Chance, and teenage daughter Choyce. (Her YouTube channel has more than 200,000 subscribers.)
Brown has also coined such culinary catchphrases as “Like so, like that” and “Because that’s your business.” And whether she’s singing the praises of garlic powder or offering an encouraging word, Brown’s voice is so soothing that some devotees have taken to Twitter asking for Apple to swap her in as the new voice of Siri. With a freshly inked talent agency contract in hand, the North Carolina native is now fleshing out the acting dreams that first brought her to Los Angeles 20 years ago.
We recently checked in with Brown to learn more about what keeps her feeling “Very good” (another one of her video bon mots), which local cravings she’s had to curb because of corona-closures, and what her burgeoning acting career holds.
How are you handling all of your newfound online fame?
I have so many young fans now that I’ve joined TikTok, which is mind-blowing to me. Them referring to me as “mom” or “auntie,” and my making them feel loved and have less anxiety, I love every second of it. It’s literally a minute or so out of my day to give someone that encouragement.
While you’re busy inspiring your viewers, what lifts your spirits?
Every day I wake up, that’s inspiration for me. I was sick for a long time. I had a resting headache and chronic fatigue, and many days I didn’t think I would wake up. When you’ve been to that dark place and you come out of that, every day is a gift. To be able to be in this moment, in a sound mind and a healthy body, I don’t really need anything else.
Many people dread having to cook so many meals at home these days, but you make it look so easy.
People watch it, see the fun in it and they say, ‘I can do that!’ because I do make it look easy. I cook from the spirit. It’s got to be what you feel in that moment. I want people not to be intimidated in the kitchen. If you have to use a recipe every time you cook, you don’t trust yourself, and that’s not good. You’ve got to learn how to trust yourself and talk to yourself with positivity and confidence.
Having a background in Southern cooking, was it difficult transitioning to veganism?
When I moved to Los Angeles, I made a lot of friends who were also actors and didn’t have family here. So every Sunday, I would invite everybody over. I ate fish, chicken and turkey then and I was known for my greens and mac-and-cheese and all that stuff. But then, when I became vegan, I was like, ‘Now, wait a minute. I’ve got to still be able to make these same favorites but vegan.’ I just started playing with the recipes and I made that thang work, honey.
I do have people sending me messages saying, ‘Girl, eat some meat!’, ‘If you want bacon, eat some real bacon.’ But all that doesn’t even bother me. I’m not going to judge anybody for what they eat. I’m only sharing my life and my story. And if it encourages you to try something new, so be it.
Where are some of your favorite local places to stock up your kitchen?
Let me tell you where I love to go: It’s the good ol’ 99 Cents store. You can find me in there anytime, OK? I go in there and get my avocados, pineapples and asparagus. I go there first before I go to the grocery store. But, honey, I’ll go anywhere, from Trader Joe’s to Vons to Vallarta. I also shop at the Galleria Market, which is a Korean market in Northridge, and I shop at Island Pacific, another Asian market. That’s where I get all different kinds of mushrooms, noodles and spices.
It must be difficult going to all those stores now that there are so many pandemic-related restrictions.
It’s a little frustrating, but it’s the way of life right now. You’ve got to just adjust and not overthink it. But what I really miss is the restaurants. I love Au Lac, which is Vietnamese food in downtown Los Angeles, Pura Vita, which is 100% plant-based Italian, and Vinh Loi, another Vietnamese place. I cook so much at home, but when I do go out, those are my little spots. There’s a new place — VTree in Hollywood — that just did their grand opening with take-out vegan soul food. It’s traditional Southern food with an African spin on it. Oh, my God! It’s so good!
You recently signed to Creative Artists Agency. What kinds of projects are you working on next?
I have a comedy in development where I play myself, a real mom and real wife who’s trying to keep her family together, all while keeping her mind sane and not forgetting to live her dream. I would also love to do a vegan travel series where I travel to small towns to showcase the hidden gems of vegan restaurants, talk to the owners and share their stories.
When I first started acting, I was trying to look a certain way and weigh a certain weight. I wasn’t free, which is probably why I never got to be great. When your mind is free and you’re not worried about what anybody thinks about you, you’re a whole different artist. So I’m super excited about my acting career right now.
Good morning. Pete Wells has a fine reverie in The Times today about restaurants and our memories of them, of particular dishes at particular times at particular tables or seats at the bar.
It’s an essay to accompany a collection of recipes and stories we’ve gathered from restaurants across the United States, recipes, he writes, that are like postcards from another time: “The time before this, when you could just take a subway, a taxi, a ferry or a plane without thinking twice, and when you could arrive wherever you were going and walk down a street where the lights were on and the doors were open.”
There are thousands and thousands more recipes waiting for you on NYT Cooking. A lot more of them than usual are free for you to browse even if you aren’t yet a subscriber to our site and apps. I’ll ask you, though, to consider subscribing, all the same. Subscriptions are what allow us to continue doing this work.
Now, it’s nothing to do with prawns or XO sauce, but I’ve been deep down the “Poldark” rabbit hole on Amazon Prime and maybe you ought to join me.
Ordinarily I’d wait for publication day to hail an important book, but, with the shipping delays we’re experiencing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, it seems like you should get on the pre-order bandwagon: Skip Finley’s “Whaling Captains of Color: America’s First Meritocracy” is out on June 15 from the Naval Institute Press.
Finally, here’s Blue Mountain to play us off, “Mountain Girl,” from 1995. I’ll be back on Friday.
During these challenging times, we’ve made a collective effort to stock our pantries for making easy meals at home. It’s vitally important to have a variety of quick go-to ingredients to make hearty dinners, minimize prep time and allowing you to avoid repeated trips to the grocery store.
These pantry organization ideas, together with this collection of 28 easy pantry dinner recipes, will hopefully inspire you to get creative with pantry staples. Plan on using pantry ingredients to create tasty dinners that’ll have the family running to the table. A few of my favorites are: Italian Rice Ball Skillet, Teriyaki Beef Fried Rice, Stove Top Chicken Broccoli Cheesy Rice Casserole, Cheesy Beef Tortellini Skillet and so many more delicious dishes.
How to Stock and Organize the Pantry
- Basic items that are helpful to have on hand fare frozen, fresh, or canned proteins such as nuts, beans, beef, seafood, chicken or pork, to form the basis for entrees.
- Stock different sizes of dry pasta, seasoned and plain rice, plus prepared sauces for casseroles.
- You should have a variety of seasonings with fresh and dried herbs to amp up the flavor of soups, stews, tacos or sloppy joes.
- Plan on adding a selection of canned vegetables to enhance dinner and add interest.
- When stocking your pantry, take the time to organize, placing like ingredients together with the earliest expiration dates most visible, so they can be used first.
- Items such as rice, flour and sugar should be placed in airtight containers to maintain freshness and optimize shelf life.
Up next: 8 Chef-Approved Pantry Desserts
About The Author
For people who love eating out, oyster bars — like steakhouses and pizza joints — are a beloved subset. At single-subject restaurants, the goal isn’t to boggle your mind with a tasting menu or a spherified vegetable: it’s to satisfy you with a particular combination of taste and tradition.
At a good oyster bar, you can be sure that each bite will bring a chilling blast of brine, an immediate protein rush, and — with touchstones like tiny forks, halved lemons, cold white wine and cracked ice — a satisfying hit of ritual.
Even though Portland, Maine, is a great restaurant city and a major hub for Atlantic seafood, until Eventide opened in 2012 there wasn’t a local raw bar that served dry rosé as well as draft beer, or offered crusty bread instead of crackers in a rustling cellophane bag. The city needed “an oyster bar, a New England seafood shack and a sushi bar,” said Andrew Taylor, 39, one of the restaurant’s chef-owners (the other is Mike Wylie, 38). “We tried to do a combination of all three, but with solid technique.”
Like fan favorites Maison Premiere in Brooklyn and Petit Marlowe in San Francisco, Eventide pushes all the vintage-oyster-bar buttons, complete with marble counters, tin ceiling and a chalkboard with dozens of shellfish varieties. But it also has an overlay of Japanese flavors and New England tradition that produced its stellar chowders.
Strictly traditional Maine chowder is made from just four ingredients. The base is clams, because the brine they throw off when steamed open provides liquid for the soup. Then all that’s needed is potatoes for starch, cured pork for salt and fat, and milk for creaminess. (Most cooks now use whole milk or heavy cream, but the longtime default through winters and on fishing boats was canned evaporated milk.)
Portland Herald Press/Getty Images
Fish chowder is also popular in New England, but it needs a little more help, which is where Japanese dashi comes in at Eventide. “I’m sure 95 percent of people wouldn’t know it’s there,” said Mr. Taylor, who runs Eventide and the neighboring restaurants Hugo’s and the Honey Paw with Mr. Wylie and a partner, Arlin Smith, 37. (They opened a satellite Eventide in Boston in 2017, to welcoming reviews.)
Dashi is the basic liquid used in Japanese cooking. It is brewed from kelp and water (and sometimes dried fish and mushrooms), producing a taste of pure oceanic umami. It’s like seawater, but with depth. Dashi, kombu and nori, different forms of seaweed, underlie a number of Eventide’s dishes, including fish chowders. “Shellfish and seaweed are part of the New England flavor profile too,” Mr. Taylor said, referring to traditional clambakes. (To be clear, no one eats the seaweed at a New England clambake.)
Shipments of Eventide’s signature lobster roll, which puts a fluffy Chinese bao in the place usually occupied by a hot dog bun and bathes the lobster meat in brown butter instead of plain melted butter, have kept the kitchen open even after the restaurant closed in mid-March. (It is gradually reopening, and taking orders via Instagram.)
Like many businesses in Maine, Mr. Taylor said, Eventide will have to bring in real money this summer — not half-capacity money, or takeout-and-delivery money — in order to survive. “That’s how it works here,” he said. “We build up a war chest over the summer, and use it to pay off debt for the rest of the year.”
— Julia Moskin
If you’ve been following my recipes for any period of time, you’re aware of my love for all things Oreo, from my classic Oreo Delight to Oreo Icebox Cake to No-Churn Oreo Ice Cream to Oreo Pound Cake to Easiest Oreo Cheesecake to Oreo Chewies. And that’s not all of them. I just love the intensely chocolate cookies and that decadent creme filling. And apparently I’m not the only one. Oreos have been the most popular-selling cookie in the U.S. since they were introduced in 1912.
My other love, when it comes to sweet treats, is a sheet cake. They’re easier than layer cake, and they taste just as amazing.
So I’ve decided to combine the two and create this Cookies and Cream Sheet Cake. We start with a boxed white cake mix and stir in crushed Oreo cookies and then top it with a delicious butter cream frosting flavored with more Oreo cookies. It’s an enticing Oreo overload. But somehow just perfect.
Now, every time I post a new sheet cake recipe, I get comments and emails saying, “this isn’t a sheet cake.” They’re expecting, I suppose, a full sheet-pan-sized cake that would be about 18 x 26 – that’s a lot of cake. Well, a 9 x 13 is about a quarter of a full sheet cake – which, I think, still makes it a sheet cake. But the name refers more to the fact that it’s not a layer cake rather than the size.
Regardless of what I call it, I bet you’ll call it delicious. Y’all enjoy.
Cookies and Cream Sheet Cake
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Total time: 1 hour
Serves: 8 to 10
- 1 (14.3-ounce) package Oreo cookies
- 1 (15.25-ounce) box white cake mix
- 1 cup milk
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil
- 3 large eggs
For the frosting
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter (room temperature)
- 6 cups powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and lightly spray a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Place the cookies in a gallon-size zip top bag and crush them with a rolling pin or meat mallet. You want them to be broken up well, but not pulverized. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, combine the cake mix, milk, vegetable oil and eggs. Use a mixer to mix it well — about two minutes. Measure out about 2 cups of the crushed cookies and stir them into the batter. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Set aside and cool completely.
- Once the cake is cool, make the frosting by using a mixer to beat the butter until smooth. Gradually add the powdered sugar, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix well. Add the extracts and mix well. Gradually add the whipping cream until the frosting is near spreading consistency. Stir in the remaining cookie crumbs. Add additional whipping cream if it’s too thick to spread or some additional powdered sugar if it’s too thin. Spread the frosting over the cake.
Everybody has their own version of comfort food. We’ve told you about milk toast, an old-fashioned comfort food favorite where you toast buttered bread, tear it in chunks and pour milk over it. But ask a Southerner what their version of this favorite is and they’ll tell you a different tale. If you grew up in the South, especially in the Appalachian region, you know it’s cornbread and milk.
Cornbread is comfort food on its own. Served as part of so many meals, Southern cornbread is a staple. You can slather it with butter or mix in some cheddar or some jalapeños, just don’t add sugar (sweet cornbread is a muffin, not cornbread). But for a simple, comforting meal, all you need to do is crumble cornbread in a glass and pour cold milk over it.
You probably won’t find a recipe for this dish, sometimes called a “crumble in” or “crumb-in,” in a cookbook. It’s not clear who the first person was to crumble cornbread and milk; it’s one of those things passed down from generation to generation. And how you like your cornbread and milk can differ from family to family, too. Some folks like it with sweet milk, while others prefer the tang of buttermilk.
Cornbread and milk works best when you have a hearty cornbread. You can use a cornbread recipe with all yellow cornmeal instead of adding all-purpose flour to the dry ingredient mix, which creates a dense and flavorful cornbread. For the best crispy, golden brown cornbread, bake it in a cast-iron skillet. While you can use cornbread fresh out of the oven, day-old cornbread is actually better if you’re going to pour milk over it.
Most people who eat cornbread and milk keep it simple, but you can also drizzle a little bit of sorghum syrup on top if you want an extra touch of sweetness. Or if you want to go savory, you might sprinkle a little bit of black pepper on top.
Ready to try this Southern comfort food? Here’s one of our favorite cornbread recipes. All you need is cornmeal, salt, baking powder, baking soda, two large eggs, buttermilk and butter for the cast iron skillet. Make sure you preheat the skillet to get the crispy crust! Bake for about 20 minutes, cut a slab of cornbread, crumble it into a glass, pour cold milk on top and enjoy.
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The South has one of America’s great cuisines. So it’s hardly surprising that two of this year’s nominees for the James Beard Award for best American cookbook have connections to the region. The awards are among the most prestigious in the food world.
For “Jubilee,” Toni Tipton-Martin combed through 400 rare, historic cookbooks to forge a new definition of African American food. The story she tells stretches through our country’s history and touches every region.
The celebrated chef Sean Brock’s second cookbook, another nominee, makes its subject clear in its one-word title: “South.”
The third nominee for best American cookbook is “Cook Like a Local,” chef Chris Shepherd’s love letter to the internationally diverse cuisine of Houston. Depending on where you draw the boundary, it’s also a book about the South.
The American South spoke to both Tipton-Martin and Brock about their books. Here are excerpts from those earlier interviews.
The winners of the James Beard Awards for cookbooks and media will be announced May 27.
Toni Tipton-Martin on ‘Jubilee’
The American South: Why have we historically overlooked the contributions of professional black chefs, focusing instead more on African American home cooking?
Tipton-Martin: Because we’ve perceived their work to be food prepared for white people, and that’s an unfair position to put professional African American cooks in. We don’t apply that same standard to other food professionals. We don’t know what our iconic chefs and food TV personalities prepare at home with their families. They’re celebrated for the food that they cook in their restaurants, in their books and on their TV shows. All I’m asking for is equity for African American professionals to be known and recognized and honored without preconceived ideas.
Read the full interview with Tipton-Martin.
Sean Brock on ‘South’
The American South: In “South,” you say that cuisines are made of people, a place and the ingredients that grow in that place. Does that mean that Southern food can only be cooked in the South?
Brock: When we were so nervous about these things going extinct, I was very adamant about the flavor of a place. You can only experience it in that place. I’m starting to realize that with all these traditions, dishes, flavors and recipes, I find the emotion that they trigger more interesting now. If you’re making fried green tomatoes with Italian green tomatoes but you’re telling the story and it makes people feel nurtured, that’s Southern food.
Read the full interview with Sean Brock about “South.”
News tips? Story ideas? Questions? Call reporter Todd Price at 504-421-1542 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Instagram, Twitter or through his monthly food newsletter. Sign up for The American South newsletter.